Here’s a recruiting trick: never skip the “summary” section of a job candidate’s resumÃ©. Sure, it’s probably filled with overused adjectives like “strategic,” “driven” and “creative.” But this section can be a great indicator of what every employer needs to know: whether a potential hire is lying to you.
This all shakes out during the interview. Once you’re in a room with the candidate, pick two or three of the adjectives she used in her summary and ask her to give examples of how she demonstrates these characteristics significantly more than the average person. If she lights up with stories, you’ll learn a lot about her defining qualities, you’ll know she’s self-aware and you can be confident that she truly believes that she embodies those traits. If, instead, she responds with the “deer in headlights” look, be on high alert. Does she lack self-awareness? Is she trying to be something she’s not? Did she just copy words from your job ad?
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Whatever the reason for a lacklustre response, a flimsy personal description is a strong sign that the candidate may have exaggerated, even downright fabricated, other things about her skills and aptitudes. According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, 53% of resumÃ©s contain falsifications, 33% include inaccurate job descriptions and 21% list a fraudulent degree. These lies can lead you to make a bad hire.
The good news is that with some clever interviewing techniques, you can figure out whether your candidate is telling you the truth. The “backup your buzzwords” tactics is one way to do it. Here are seven more.
1. Watch for demeanour shifts. At the start of the interview, when you’re making small talk, pay attention to how the candidate speaks, her gestures and her eye contact. This will show you how she communicates when she’s not under duress (even if she is a bit nervous). If at some point her tone or delivery changes noticeably, be extra-vigilant.
2. Stay in the past. In general, the best way to thwart resumÃ© exaggerators is to continually ask behavioural questions. In this form of inquiry, you ask only about the past, probing for details about specific situations, what the candidate did and what the results were. The tactic works because the best predictor of the future is the past, and it’s a lot harder for people to make up (and have to verify) detailed stories than it is for them to answer hypotheticals.
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3. Flip the script. Most liars have memorized at least one or two made-up tales of their “achievements.” A good tripwire is to ask him to tell the tale backward—that is, to first describe what the result was (e.g., “I landed Acme Co. as a client”), then the events leading up to it (e.g.,”The deal followed this second meeting…”). A memorized narrative tends to run in chronological order; he’ll struggle to tell it differently.
4. Spot the signs. There are a few telltale physical signs that separate a nervous person from a fraudulent one. Guilt and anxiety make most liars restless, so when the tall tales begin, they may be suddenly fidgeting or clicking a pen. In addition, if they create distance or place an object between you, it’s another sign they may be hiding something.
5. Silence the chatterers. Listen for unnecessary details. A liar will pile these into his stories as a way to convince you—especially when faced with a few seconds of silence, which makes him panic that you’re not buying what he’s selling.
6. Count the “honests.” Liars often use phrases meant to emphasize their statements’ validity, such as “to tell you the truth” and “to be perfectly honest.” When you hear these qualifiers, look out for the opposite.
7. Name names. Play Sherlock by asking for the full names of the people the candidate mentions—managers, peers, subordinates, customers. This will make him realize that his words will be open to verification, and he is likely to tone down the rhetoric. (Bonus: You’ll get a solid list of people to contact as references.)
There are a lot of liars out there, and they can cause you to make costly hiring mistakes. Using screening techniques like these will help you find the truly “driven” and “creative” job seekers you want.
Edwin Jansen is the managing director at Hirefly, a new service created to help Canadian small businesses get to a shortlist of the highest potential people they can interview for a position, while saving 60-90% of the cost of using a recruiting agency.
More columns by Edwin Jansen